Historical Events  People
George Washington

A hatchet job

Are people lying when they tell the famous story of George Washington telling his father "I cannot tell a lie"? Not exactly - it's one of those feel-good stories passed down through the generations which seems to be an acceptable "little white lie", to extend the convoluted metaphor to breaking point.

The story is young George received a hatchet as a gift, presumably this being an entirely normal thing to give 6 year olds back in the day. His fathers cherry tree then became damaged by ... a hatchet. So when pops has a little word with innocent little George, instead of the usual "it must have been the tooth fairy" yarn he was expecting, instead he immediately got a full confession with the immortal line "I cannot tell a lie".

It was actually added as a fabrication in a biography by Mason Locke Weems, a minister and bookseller shortly after Washington's death.

Little white lie

All politicians want to be portrayed in a good light. Some figures go on after their deaths to become legendary symbols for the people to aspire to, and this image genuinely helps them strive together as one for the greater good. It's so important when this happens that care is taken not to damage this image, lest the new combined strength the people hold up as the model they aspire to be tarnished. 

It's likely the story of George Washington and his promise never to lie was embellished because of the good it inspired in people, thus making society better as a whole, and it didn't really matter whether it actually happened or not so long as this message was heard and believed.